Forward Thinking

How Do You Spell 'Knaidel'?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

Had Jack Lebewohl of the legendary 2nd Ave Deli been competing yesterday in the final round of 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee, he would have lost to the winner, 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali. The Jewish food maven would have misspelled the winning word: ‘knaidel’.

Getty Images

“The thing is, we spell it k-n-e-i-d-e-l,” the deli man said in reference to the Jewish dumpling and Yiddish word for matzo ball, that was the winning word. He’s not sure how the judges could have been sure that Mahankali spelled the word correctly, when “there’s no Webster’s Dictionary for the spelling of Yiddish words.” (Though there is the widely accepted YIVO style, which spells it kneydl.)

‘Knaidel’ or ‘kneidel’, Lebewohl says it’s all good. He likened the difference in spellings to the differences in Yiddish pronunciations between Galicianers and Litvaks. “It’s also like how Polish Jews like their gefilte fish sweet, and the Hungarians like it with more pepper,” he said.

For Lebewohl, the elevation of the modest Jewish dumpling to the status of winning national spelling bee word essentially signifies that Yiddish is truly entering the vernacular. “Non-Jews in New York use Yiddish words all the time,” he said as he recalled how Al D’Amato unfortunately called Charles Schumer a “putzhead” during the 1998 New York senatorial race.

Lebewohl may be right, but Richard Schaffer, assistant principal at Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74 in Bayside, Queens, where the winner is enrolled, is pretty sure that Indian-American Mahankali had never before said ‘knaidel’, let alone eaten one. “When you say ‘dumpling’ in this building, it means something different,” he said in reference to the school’s 60% Asian (mostly Chinese and Korean) population.

Although Schaffer could think of a few Jewish delis in the neighborhood around the school, he is pretty sure that the kids are not frequenting them. “And I can assure you that the Yiddish word for dumpling is not something heard in our school cafeteria,” he added.

“However, I’ll say that the only [spelling bee] word I knew how to spell was ‘knaidel.’”

“I think the only reason he knew the word was because it was German-related. Arvind [who finished in third place the two previous years] had been knocked out on German words before, so he was really studying up on the German roots and words so he wouldn’t be tripped up on them again,” the assistant principal said.

Schaffer said that the school has a number of events scheduled to celebrate Mahankali’s big win, including a special school-wide newscast and a ceremony that will be part of the school’s American Cancer Society walk-a-thon next Tuesday.

Lebewohl would be happy to host the spelling champion at the 2nd Ave Deli. “We’ll give him a tour, and also an education on the real way to spell ‘kneidel.’”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: yiddish, spelling bee, matzo ball soup, knaidel, 2nd ave deli

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.